A few years ago I quit my day job with hopes of realizing my life long dream of becoming proficient at improvisational be-bop jazz guitar. I consider this form of music to be the highest achieved by mankind and I looked at myself (romantically) as not being a complete musician until I could converse at a competent level in that art form.
About four months into heavy practicing and lessons (the first I had taken in nearly 20 years) I was loose and limber. My ears were in the best shape they had ever been and my fingers were reacting with a nimble touch I had only dreamed about. In a word, I was swinging.
Then it happened: my hands blew out.
My hands had hurt before but I could always attribute it to a particular physically strenuous or demanding event, but this was different. And worse. Way worse. Teams of doctors looked at them, x-rayed them, massaged them and drugged them but in the end there wasn’t a clear diagnosis other than: I was playing too much guitar and my hands couldn’t take it. The only “cure” was to severely restrict the time I played and to only play a very limited style (no bending). After a long period of this regiment, I was told, it may be possible that I could slowly, over time, increase the amount of time and rigor I played, basically applying the same treatment used by victims of several physical trauma. Remember, this was their best guess as to what might work.
I was freaked. I never fully appreciated how much of my identity was wrapped up in being a musician. Even when I didn’t play for over five years out of rage and disappointment at the recording industry. Even when I started tinkering with MIDI after an 80 hour weeks at software companies. Even if I was never at the level of musicianship I had hoped, it was always just a matter of time and energy. So I didn’t have all the talent in the world — there were four more talented guitarists on my block as a teenager and I was clearly at the bottom rung of the talent ladder in music school. None of that mattered because that just meant I would work harder. But now… that was all over. “I” was over. “I” was always “a musician who…” A musician who programmed for a living, a musician who had kids and had to put that aside for a while, a musician who had more passion than talent and that would have to be enough (that and being Hungarian). All of sudden, as the cliche goes, I didn’t know who I was any more.
Since then, ACID 2.0, Kaleidoscope, remixing and sampling in general gave me some lively, distracting breathing room and has since become a passion equal to any other. The fact that I could do some quick, if shoddy, guitar parts in between getting into this remixing thing would have to be the bonus, not the core, of my existence. (Remember, we’re talking self-deluding distractions-from-the-mortal-coil-shuffle romantic fancy-talk here.)
Recently, however, I remembered an interesting incident that happened many years ago: my girlfriend (the one I married) had a terrible steel-string acoustic guitar. But I never had one and it stayed kind of in tune, so I took out my “Beatles Complete Scores” book and started playing through the book. This is a very large book that includes every song they recorded. It took me weeks to work my way through it because sometimes I would linger on one or two of my favorites trying to make that guitar sound decent. Soon after that I picked up the Strat. I had never been so limber in my life (!) and I immediately started playing every Jimi cover I could think of.
In this context it’s obvious what happened but it’s taken me a while to piece everything together to where a freakishly lucid playing period (in the height of the ‘browser wars’ at work) carries the fix for an otherwise untenable, emotionally traumatizing, undiagnosed (non) career stopping injury.
So last month with Guitar Center’s play now, pay later plan I picked up a Martin CXE Audition (official site here). People who know this guitar are probably scoffing because it’s made from press board. I think the official terminology is ‘composite’ but I still call it my IKEA guitar. Hey I played a bunch of guitars and for the price ($640) it felt right and sounded cool to my ears so it’s mine.
I’ve been playing and experimenting with recording that I gather teru likes very much and I guess what happens is that the acoustic strengthens my hands in exactly the way that is needed to avoid hurtful strain on them while at the same time, limbering them up and making them more of less immune to trouble on the electric. Hey, what can I say, it works. At least that’s the theory. If my uploads start sounding more like fake jazz rather than fake turntablism in a few months you’ll know it worked.
Lesson 1: you are what you do and if you can’t do it you’re fucked.
Lesson 2: don’t lead your life by a random weblog entry.
Lesson 3: ignore lesson 1 and 2
Lesson 4: same as lesson 3
Lesson 5: lessons 3 (and by extension 4) seem to be contradictory and make no sense
Lesson 6: nothing does